Turnovers help UW rally for 23 points in 4th quarter
By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE — The debate will rage whether the ninth-ranked Washington Huskies reached out and grabbed Saturday’s improbable 36-24 victory over Cal, or whether Cal handed it over — gift-wrapped, tied neatly with a red bow and sprayed liberally with Chanel No. 5.
Here are the facts: In a preposterous seven-minute span, the Huskies forced the hapless Bears into three turnovers and blocked a punt to score 23 unanswered points and turned what appeared to be a most damaging defeat into another in a series of "fortunate" wins in the 18 straight victories over the hapless Bears.
Gadzooks. Whatta turnaround.
"There’s a difference in the two programs," UW tight end Jerramy Stevens said. "When you win, you don’t know how to lose and you never give up. When you lose all the time, you get used to it."
Did Cal let up? Did the Bears, who haven’t beaten the Huskies since 1976, succumb to some otherworldly curse? Is Washington (6-1 overall, 3-1 in the Pacific-10 Conference) charmed beyond all reason.
After Saturday’s game, anything is possible. Washington found itself down 24-13 with less than 12 minutes left. Without the ball. Outplayed. Outhustled. Flatter than a plate of bilge. Clearly, the second-best team on the field up to that point.
Then — geez.
At that point, the game was over. Just ask the 70,113 in attendance. And ask Cal (2-5, 1-3), a whipped dog of a team who snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. Moments later, walk-on safety Owen Biddle blocked a Nick Harris punt, picked up the ball and ran 27 yards to the Bears 9-yard line. Two plays later, Tuiasosopo hit Todd Elstrom for an insurance TD.
"We had them reeling," embattled Cal coach Tom Holmoe said. "I don’t think we panicked. Those three turnovers were not panic turnovers."
The Bears have to wonder what they have to do to beat the Huskies. In this 18-game streak, the Huskies have come from behind in the fourth quarter eight times. Even last year, Washington was down 24-10 with 25 minutes left and won on a Maurice Shaw plunge with 50 seconds left.
This time around, it took a fourth-quarter explosion unseen from the Huskies since the 1977 edition scored 28 points on Stanford to win, 45-21.
If there is one outstanding characteristic of the Huskies, it is in their willingness fight, to never relent. Happened last year. It’s happening this year.
It’s a team that doesn’t win beauty contests — witness the six-turnover debacle against Arizona State the Saturday prior that Washington somehow found a way to win, 21-15.
It just wins.
But this one looked grim. Down 11, it appeared to anyone with the sense of logic God gave a rhesus monkey that the Huskies were through. That they could bid a fond farewell to any hope of a BCS bowl. Ort any chance of a Pac-10 title.
No one, however, told the Huskies.
"I’m really proud of my team, the way they battled, the way they refused to say die," UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I think there are a lot of teams in the United States that would have thrown in the towel. On our sideline, it wasn’t like that at all. They turned it up a notch."
Said Tuiasosopo: "You can’t feel sorry for yourself. We could’ve tanked it or felt sorry for ourselves and got frustrated, but we don’t give up. Our defense found a way to get the turnovers and that rejuvenated the offense."
But the nagging point remains: Washington — flawed but fortunate — has yet to put a complete game together. How long can they survive this?
"I don’t like sloppy games, but we’re finding ways to win," Neuheisel said. "We’re not blessed right now with a game-breaking guy. But we have a lot of kids who are fighting to be that guy. We’ve just got to have a couple more guys rise up and become more constant performers."
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